Social Media’s Impact on Bloomberg for Mayor 2009

Jonah Seiger, founder and managing partner of Connections Media, worked on the election campaigns for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in both 2005 and 2009, including oversight of the campaign’s entire digital media program for the most recent election, which ended up a lot closer than most pundits predicted, with Bloomberg edging William Thompson 50.6 percent-46 percent, or 557,059-506,717 in total votes.

While the election results obviously take precedence over the respective candidates’ social media tallies, the latter was no contest, with the incumbent totaling more than 40,000 Facebook friends and Twitter followers compared with 6,300 for the challenger.

Seiger spoke at a Social Media Week 2010 panel titled Bloomberg for Mayor 2009 Web & Social Media Summary, hosted by ClickZ and held at the New York headquarters of The Open Planning Project, where he was joined by ClickZ News senior editor Kate Kaye, author of Campaign 08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, and Andrew Rasiej, co-founder of techPresident and Personal Democracy Forum.

Kaye pointed out that the Bloomberg campaign spent $2.1 million on online for the 2009 election, accounting for 3 percent of its total spending, adding that it “didn’t have to worry about fund-raising, which is an anomaly among political campaigns. Most political campaigns think of online as an ATM.”

Seiger agreed that the campaign was “unique in terms of having one contributor, and not soliciting contributions,” but he added that this made the effort more challenging in many ways because people tend to invest more of themselves in campaigns to which they’ve made financial contributions. The solution: Recruitment of volunteers, Facebook fans, and Twitter followers, which Seiger called “the same thing as raising money, but engagement, rather than financial commitment.”

Among raw numbers from Bloomberg’s 2009 campaign shared by Seiger: 1.1 billion targeted online ad impressions at a cost of less than 0.02 cents each; 42 percent of traffic to the official campaign site generated from social media and search-engine optimization; 224,000 YouTube video plays; almost 400 different online ads created during the course of the campaign; and a total of 31 million Twitter followers of Bloomberg Twitter followers, with 3.5 million of them in New York City.

Kaye and Seiger discussed the one day in August when Bloomberg actually tweeted himself, which was publicized in advance. The stunt — which resulted in Bloomberg’s total Twitter followers rising about 50 percent in the 10 days before and after it — was actually pushed back 48 hours due to the mid-air collision between a tour helicopter and a single engine airplane over the Hudson River. Kaye pointed out that Bloomberg was one of Twitter’s selected users on the day of the event.

On the use of social media in general, Seiger said:

Digital was embraced in a way that I’ve never seen before — partly a reflection of the age of the people running the campaign, partly a reflection of the mayor embracing technology — a real true embracing of online as a core component of the campaign.

Every single thing we did on the campaign mattered. I don’t think social media meant more than anything else, but it was part of the success.

Every day, we focused on: How do we integrate our digital tactics into the larger campaign strategy?

We were hoping for a true buy-in in terms of digital, and we got that beyond my expectations. Even in a campaign as well-funded as ours, there are realities of budgeting, but I had everything I needed for my team to do its job.

None of our spend was targeted toward people who were below 18 or didn’t have a geographic reason to vote in New York City.

Any legitimate social media strategy naturally includes digital advertising as a part of the promotion.

Initiatives the campaign implemented on Facebook included a bottom-bar engagement option with a Facebook Connect button; Facebook groups by borough or other criteria (such as Women for Bloomberg); allowing users of the social-networking site to sign up for events and invite friends via Facebook Connect; and encouraging people to “donate” their Facebook status to the campaign.

On the subject of Twitter, Seiger was skeptical at first, saying:

We originally thought Facebook would provide much more benefit than Twitter. We happened to engage on Twitter at a very fruitful time. Twitter wasn’t really a factor in 2008.

Ways the campaign used the microblogging service included buying search ads that urged users who searched Twitter from a New York City ZIP code to follow @mikebloomberg on Twitter; urging supporters to “tweet out the vote,” or use their tweets to encourage their followers to vote for Bloomberg; and acknowledging Twitter users (particularly those with large followings) who did so.

Seiger added, “Our Twitter strategy substantially benefited by the Yankees being in the World Series.”

When asked how the staff dealt with negative comments on Facebook or Twitter, Seiger said:

This is New York City. There are lots of opinions about lots of things…and we did not intend to stand in the way of that. Anyone could comment on Facebook. Our moderators occasionally deleted content with inappropriate language or aggressive attacks versus other members of the community, but the number of deleted comments was very low.

He concluded by sharing the “estimated” impact of social media, 85,000 votes, adding that the final margin of victory was slightly more than 50,000 votes. And speaking of Bloomberg’s opponent, Kaye said, “Thompson’s digital campaign people were invited. We wanted to have them here. They declined to participate.”